All in a Life-Time

by Henry Morgenthau, in Collaboration with French Strother. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Co. 1922. 8vo, xii + 454 pp. $4.00.
IN 1865, when Henry Morgenthau was nine years old, he accompanied his family from Mannheim, Germany, to New York. His father, who had been a prosperous cigar-manufacturer, employing as many as a thousand hands, had seen his business ruined by an increase in the American tariff on tobacco which had closed his chief market against him; thereupon he brought his family to the land that had dealt him this cruel blow. In the public schools of New York the boy applied himself diligently to his studies and showed marked brilliancy in mathematics. At the age of fourteen he entered City College, but after a few months had to withdraw in order to go to work and contribute what he could to the support of the family. A few years later he worked his way through Columbia Law School and within a short time after his graduation he was prospering amazingly. Buying and selling real estate, he had such success that eventually he decided to give up the practice of the law and form a real estate trust company, which should do for real estate what the banking institutions had done for the railroads and industrials. The most important financiers in New York joined with him in this enterprise — though Mr. Morgenthau says that he had to go ‘on bended knees’ to have some of them accept what seemed to him tremendous profits.
Had he nothing but the tale of his business success to relate, his story, though romantic and in its way stimulating, would have had no very great importance. He was absorbed for many years in making money; the absorption was that of a keen player of the game. But his sense of civic responsibility was never wholly dormant, and it became more active as his years and wealth increased. Not until 1912, however, did he take an active part in political affairs. In the presidential campaign of that year he was one of Mr. Wilson’s most ardent supporters, and as Chairman of the Democratic Finance Committee he contributed in no inconsiderable measure to the success of the party ticket. During Mr. Wilson’s two administrations he rendered valuable public service in various capacities—as Ambassador to Turkey; as a member of the Committee to finance the Red Cross; as a special government agent to Europe during the war; as a delegate to the International League of Red Cross Societies; as a member of the Commission to investigate the Jewish massacres in Poland.
A striking illustration of the soundness of his judgment is afforded in the account of a talk that he had with Venizelos during the Peace Conference. He told the Greek statesman that the invasion of Smyrna was a mistake, that the Turks would drive the Greek troops back into the hinterland and fight until they exhausted them. The reply of Venizelos was, ‘Perhaps we have acted too hastily; it may have been unwise for us to send an army into Smyrna, but now that the army is there, it would be more unwise to withdraw it.’
Mr. Morgenthau’s autobiography is the story of an upright and upstanding man whose idealism is properly ballasted and who has guarded well the important interests entrusted to him and performed well the important duties assigned to him. There is nothing vainglorious in his narrative; it is modest, simple, and direct. He has a talent for crisp and vivid characterization; he comments freely upon the distinguished persons with whom he has had relations; some of his anecdotes — as those about Mr. Bryan and Mr. Henry Ford — will be less relished by the subjects of them than by other readers. The book is both entertaining and enlightening.